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What Is Aggressive Narcissism?

Dan Harkins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Clinical narcissism is an unhealthy level of self-love, to the exclusion of all others and their needs. When the condition evolves into a more psychopathic and violent form, therapists call this aggressive narcissism, or malignant narcissism. Some of the most notorious killers in human history have been grouped into this category of anti-social behavior disorders, from serial killer Ted Bundy to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. These people have taken sadistic pleasure in exerting personal superiority over those they perceive as inferior.

A little narcissism, literally self-love, is a natural part of being human and forms the cornerstone of healthy self-esteem. Too much narcissism, however, is a different issue. Someone considered self-involved or conceited can be considered narcissistic, but may not be a clinical narcissist. This take a certain lack of caring for the needs of others and a desire to exploit people for personal gain. If these attributes are prevalent, a therapist is likely to diagnose a patient with having narcissistic personality disorder.

It takes destructive tendencies for people with narcissistic personality disorder to be diagnosed with aggressive narcissism — a common trait of the violent psychopath. This carnivorous spirit is marked by a compulsion to hurt and manipulate others, either physically or mentally. The malignant narcissist seeks an illusory sense of exaggerated power, gained only through humiliating and asserting dominance over others.

Aggressive narcissism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Some, like serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, may harm animals, then graduate to human sacrifice. Others stay shy of murder, but constantly deride those closest to them or beat family members behind closed doors. Narcissists, in general, tend to be of above-average intelligence and are more prone to enjoy activities like hunting or shooting ranges. They may tend to gravitate toward careers like teaching or even law enforcement, which allows them to assert authority over others on a regular basis.

Psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm was the first to label this violent turn "malignant narcissism," in the 1960s. Since then, several studies and psychoanalytical works have been devoted to the disorder, which combines paranoia, narcissism, evil tendencies and selfish aims. Research indicates that urban environments are twice as likely to house people with narcissistic personality disorder, which men are five times more likely to develop than women. Aggressive narcissism also is more prevalent among those addicted to alcohol and other drugs as well as those with criminal histories.

TheHealthBoard is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins , Former Writer
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.

Discussion Comments

By anon997935 — On Mar 19, 2017

Aggressive Narcissism is the same the as malignant Narcissism, correct?

By anon318687 — On Feb 08, 2013

What can be done to make psychologists "come out"-- to be in the forefront of public discussions involving aggressive narcissist behaviors in politics (e.g. obsession with guns, fear-mongering for profit, paranoia, glib speech and emotional games in the media and Congress, absence of empathy, self-obsession, etc.)?

Here's a story you might be interested in: "'Dark patch’ visible in brain scans of killers and rapists, neurologist claims."

By lonelygod — On Nov 02, 2011

What can you do if someone close to you is showing signs of aggressive narcissism?

My brother has always been a jerk, but lately it seems like he is taking more and more joy from making the people around him unhappy. His wife is miserable and his kids can't stand their father's attitude. Though he feels like he can do no wrong.

I think that I always knew something was off with my brother... something that goes beyond typical arrogance or being conceited, but I am not sure if I can do anything to help him. What do you do for the person that thinks they're perfect? I am honestly not sure if he cares about hurting his family or not.

By manykitties2 — On Nov 02, 2011

There is a great book out there called The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout Ph.D and it goes into a bit about the traits of detrimental narcissism and how it hides in plain sight. That person in the office that is always on top, but who secretly manipulates everyone is more than likely a sociopath with a nice touch of aggressive narcissism thrown in.

I remember when I was working at one place and my coworker took a lot of pleasure in getting the new interns fired. I always wondered what her issue was, but now knowing what kind of games those with narcissistic personality disorder like to play, I am not surprised with her behavior at all.

Dan Harkins

Dan Harkins

Former Writer

Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
Learn more
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